Engineering projects to enhance quality of life

Johan Van Zyl -- Mon, 10/20/2014 - 10:00

Engineering projects to enhance quality of life

One of the late Nelson Mandela’s quotations reads: “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”

This is undoubtedly the disposition of first-year students at North-West University’s Potchefstroom Campus who have recently had their first hands-on exposure to the engineering world. This is the fourth year that first-year students at the Faculty of Engineering had the opportunity to work on local, on-the-job community projects.

Various projects were tackled for the purpose of improving the local community’s quality of life. The students identified some of the projects but most arose from needs from various quarters in the local community. Guided by lecturer Hannes du Toit, 31 projects were identified and approximately 370 first-years were involved.

“Clients had a variety of concept and developmental needs. After they had seen what we had accomplished in the past, they recognised the possibility that our students could attend to their developmental needs. Of course we jumped at the opportunity and these projects have now been part of the subject Professional Practice for four consecutive years.” He explains that the projects not only give students a broader framework for the entire engineering process but also create opportunities for exposure to professional practice from their first year of study.

Besides the complicated building and engineering work involved in the projects, students themselves have to undertake the planning, marketing, finances and implementation successfully. “Apart from offering the opportunity to master one aspect of engineering, these projects also prepare the students for the reality awaiting them. In the meantime the community benefits tremendously,” Du Toit says.

Projects are very diverse and meet many needs.

Musical instruments from recyclable material

Students made working musical instruments from recyclable material that not only sound like the real McCoy but also cost a fraction of the price. Samantha Dippenaar says they could make a flute for a mere R15, a cello for R150 and a violin for R300. “Our objective is to take music to those who yearn for it but cannot afford it.”

Hard-wearing wheelchair

Marinus van der Berg, team leader, says they saw the need for a tough, robust wheelchair. “It will make the user’s life significantly easier because the wheelchair can be used on uneven terrain – especially as we find it in rural areas. It has a bigger, single wheel in the front and is collapsible to save space.

Insolation panels for informal housing

Students have built a press that occupants of tin shanties can use to manufacture their own insolation panels. Wet newspaper is used to press block-shaped panels that are left in the sun to dry and harden. These can then be affixed to the walls and roof of the tin shanty to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter. Amke Britz sitting at the press.